Narcos: Rise of the Cartels Review – Good Concept, Bad Execution

Narcos: Rise of the Cartels
Kuju

There have been many, many TV shows that have been adapted for the silver screen. Take the original Star Trek TV show (the one from the 60s), which although was pretty hokey, had some really interesting characters and storylines that had an undeniable charm.

TV shows that have been turned into video games have been rarer. As technology has developed exponentially, we’ve seen more video games come out that are adaptations of TV shows because they are both easier to make and easier on the eyes than in the past. Unfortunately, most games based on TV shows haven’t been of the best quality. So, does developer Kuju’s new video game adaptation of the Netflix’s TV show, Narcos, fare any better?

The video game in question, Narcos: Rise of the Cartels, takes place over the entire first season of the Netflix show. You get to play as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) initially. Later, after completing the first campaign with the DEA, you can play through the second one as the infamous Medellin Cartel of Colombia.

The game is played from a top-down perspective, similar to how XCOM is laid out, with tactical combat and all. In an odd game design decision, although Rise of the Cartels has you controlling up to six characters, you can only move one of them per turn. I’m assuming that the game’s developers did this in order to make it easier for the more casual TV fans to get into the game, but in reality, it just makes everything much slower and more tedious.

This horridly-slow pace is somewhat offset by the fact that each combatant can only choose from a very limited pool of actions, but it’s still pretty much a slog. Just as with other games of this sort, you move each character around on tactical maps and then engage your enemies. When you’re ready to attack you get a closer view of the action which is pretty cool to see, but the controls and game mechanics are a little clunky.

One of the most fun aspects about other isometric games of this sort, such as Phantom Doctrine or any of the XCOM titles, is that players can sink hours and hours into their respective base-management meta-games. Rise of the Cartels eschews any of this, so you don’t have the ability to perform research, trick out your weapons or other equipment, and so on.

In Rise of the Cartels, you simply recruit characters from across five different classes, choose a mission from a strategic map, and boom, you’re inserted into the tactical maps. This game would have greatly benefited from an espionage system, similar to what’s present in Phantom Doctrine, where you can track down enemies and also engage in subterfuge.

Also unlike other, superior games of this sort, there doesn’t seem to be any stealth mechanics in place. Every time that my squad would be deposited onto any of the tactical maps, all of the enemy units strangely seemed to know exactly where each and every individual agent (or gangster as the case was) happened to be located.

Even more ridiculous was how lethal short-range weapons like shotguns were at longer ranges. Being sniped from across the map by a shotgun-wielding foe really broke any sort of immersion that had been built up to that point.

Overall, Narcos: Rise of the Cartels, comes across as a rather half-baked affair that really could have used a lot more development time in the oven. It has some redeeming qualities, such as its slick production values and adherence to trappings of the TV series, but its shallow gameplay mechanics and overly-lethargic pace make it hard to recommend to anyone except the most die-hard fans of the Netflix series unless you can catch it at a drastically-reduced sale price.

SCORE: 67%

Narcos: Rise of the Cartels has some pretty nice looking graphics that make its tactical-based gameplay truly shine. However, you want to have a pretty beefy gaming PC or gaming laptop in order to play it at a decent framerate. So, you may just want to invest in a decent gaming rig:

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